Utter mayhem

Today is the 20th remembrance day of one of the most dramatic bitter-sweet stories seen in Bollywood: Bhagwan Abaji Palav came out of the boondocks of Amravati, and after initial struggles, saw a dramatic rise to the dizzy heights of stardom out of nowhere, a heady and profligate lifestyle in the salad days with a large seaside mansion in Mumbai, living life large, truly King-size. On the way up to his pinnacle, he had unfortunately accumulated a lot of riffraff who were there to enjoy the ride and the freebies, sycophants of the lowest kind who enjoyed the booze (there always was lots of it flowing in his fiefdom), the babes and the dream lifestyle and yearn for more of the same. The slew of superhit movies dried up and the river of untold riches shrivelled up to a trickle, then disappeared altogether. The fawning fans promptly disappeared as the gravy train ground to a grinding halt. The sad part was he scaled down on his lifestyle one by one, getting rid of his many assets, one by one and gradually moving back to the single room in the chawl where he had begun his life journey from. In the 70s, when we were in GS Medical College, he came and spent a Saturday evening with us, recounting his heydays and reminiscing. His expectations were pitifully small and it was shocking to us to see what he had gotten to be. Albela was then in the midst of achieving a revival to become a cult classic. Sadly, as he himself told us, he had sold the rights to the film for a paltry ₹5000 to one Ranjit Budhkar who struck paydirt with that one. Bhagwan’s slide downhill was complete 20 years ago when he sadly died in utter penury, abandoned by his own family and tragically his neighbours, fans and a few friends actually contributed for his funeral. The man in his lifetime had really seen the highest highs and lowest of lows.

In the years after the runaway success of Albela, he made this movie that I saw on DD Mumbai. It was called Bhagam Bhag and pitted two of the zaniest of guys in Bollywood to create double trouble. Kishore Kumar and Bhagwan were the two soulmates and partners in crime who increase the mirth quotient on the movie. Shashikala and Smriti Biswas had important roles in the movie. Bela Bose and Kumkum were there for raising the mercury column. Most of the leading characters actually went by their own names in the movie, which was interesting.

While they are asleep in their shanty, Kishore and Bhagwan are woken up rather rudely by three goons who in the middle of the night ransack their room at gun-point for a coat , in an intriguing exercise in futility. Bhagwan actually finds the coat a while later and there appears nothing valuable in it, so the duo decide to keep it. Their privacy is interrupted again – this time by two females, Smriti and Shashi, who distract them and take the coat. The duo follow the two women, who turn out to be nieces of Jwala Prasad aka Badri Prasad ( the latter was his real name), the owner of the coat. Goons now manage to take the coat, but with Kishore and Bhagwan’s help, the women are able to take it back to their uncle. The grateful uncle lets the duo stay with them. The next morning the duo wake up to an empty house as they find Jwala Prasad and his nieces have vanished. They turn amateur detectives to investigate further (I found the storyline copied in an altered form in the Ravi Baswani/Naseeruddin Shah caper, the unforgettable Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron) and the search sets off a wild goose chase where the two friends first go to Madras (as it was called then), then to Howrah, and then, of all the places, to Pakistan – where they are held in a dungeon and goons prepare nooses to hang them – without the bumbling duo even getting to know what is in the coat and why so many people want it.

Forget the storyline, it is just an excuse for the comic duo who indulge in insanity all the way, putting on different disguises and a variety of outrageous accents (that undoubtedly created the linguistic riots) and singing in local musical genres and I remember, trying to appear to be different religions. Bhagwant flirting with his belle is hilarious. In this song “Chhod Chale Pyaari Duniya Ko”, the duo are being held by the baddies in their hideout, and are wearing rather formal suits, looking dapper and well groomed and are threatened with hanging by nooses clearly not capable of holding their weight. The flimsy ropes would have probably snapped if the portly pair were suspended. In their formal attire, they are clearly overdressed for the “occasion”. I would have expected the goons to have roughed them up, at the very least. These two look happily dashing and really would be better off attending a ball than their own hanging. Another song “Hey Babu” is plagiarized from Dean Martin’s “Mambo Italiano”. Amazingly the music is scored by OP Nayyar who must’ve surely enjoyed being part of this madcap caper. Bhagwan told us in the MLT in my alma mater that both of them had lots of fun making the insane film,almost a trip.

My respect and prayers for this unique character whose rough ride should be a reminder and lesson to those who do hit it big in the glamour and glitz of Bollywood that the good times don’t last forever.

Stay safe, folks, stay away from the Chinese Virus.

By abchandorkar

Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Pune, India

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